In the introduction to thinking skills article “HIGHER-LEVEL THINKING SKILLS: BECOMING A SKILLED THINKER”, we discuss three classes of thinking strategies: gathering, assessing or considering, and applying data. In this article we will focus on gathering data.
Among the data-gathering skills, collecting and organizing the data are not often made explicit. Students need to learn to sift the relevant from the irrelevant and then organize into a useable format the data that has been collected.
Observation is a direct method of data collection and is described in “The Skills of Observing.” Here we will be concerned with the collection of pertinent information from written sources (books, journals or the Internet), Interviews, surveys, recorded media, etc. Collecting information always begins with the question, “What do I need to know?”
Young children can begin practicing this skill by collecting information based on teacher-generated questions such as:
As children grow older they might be asked to gather information from reference or library books or from the Internet. When presented with a problem, they might also need to ask themselves, “What do I need to know?”
By the time students are in secondary school they should be able to gather information from nearly any source and should begin to evaluate the usefulness and relevancy of the data available. Here skills from the “assess-and-consider” group enter in as well. In real life, of course, we can seldom isolate the use of only one thinking skill.
Nothing is more frustrating than a huge pile of raw information. Without a way of organizing it, the collection, no matter how huge, is worthless. Students can begin to learn the skills of organization at an early age, but they will need lots of practice in the early stages.
By the time students are in the intermediate grades students should begin to organize information they have collected into tables. Quantitative data can be shown in charts and graphs. Math and science commonly use such devices but they can also be used to display information from the social sciences, literature, and the arts.
Secondary students should be able to carry this even further with more complex charts, graphs and tables.
This paper is intended to stimulate the production of classroom ideas and provides only samples of the possibilities. Much more can be done with this topic if time allows. As an example, students can be taught the use of graphic organizers such as fish-bone diagrams, concept maps, and process patterns as a way to help them organize their data even as they collect it.